As seen on Nationwide Children's Hospital's 700 Childrens® Blog
We all know that most “first loves” don’t have a happy ending. Teens can fall hard when their first relationship ends. These relationships can end uneventfully, amicably or without drama, but due to teens’ undeveloped pre-frontal cortex, which controls judgement, risk taking and emotional regulation, combined with a lack of life experience, a breakup can result in a deep emotional pain that may have a long-lasting impact.
How can you help your teen during this time? Here are tips for providing support and teaching them how to manage future relationships.
- Listen. Many parents are quick to provide advice, reflect on their own experiences and judge the other person. Instead, lend your time and presence, and listen. A teen is not in the mindset to be calm and understand logical information after a breakup, but hey will appreciate you listening. If your teen reports any abuse, know how and where to report it. If he or she talks about sexual activity, know where to go for sexually transmitted infection testing, pregnancy testing and birth control.
- Don’t minimize. While the relationship may have lasted a short time or didn’t seem serious, your teen may have a different perspective. If this person was filling a void in their self-esteem or social status, their feelings may be even more intense. Therefore, you must meet them where they are and believe their pain.
- Help them get comfortable and cozy. Bring them their beloved stuffed animal from childhood, a cup of tea or their favorite meal from a restaurant. Small pleasures help ease suffering during the most painful times. The feeling of being “cozy” can include a familiar place or simply feeling safe and loved.
- Look for signs of suicidal ideation and/or self-harm. When a teen endures a breakup, he or she may experience feelings of depression or anxiousness related to the emotional pain. Even if there is no prior history of mental illness, the perceived feelings of rejection, insecurity, discomfort, unpredictability and loss felt by the teen can be extreme. Be aware of the signs and have resources on hand, such as the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255. Friends and family can make sure they’re not alone. Pediatricians, school counselors and mental health providers are excellent resources who should also be made aware.
- Teach them. Once the worst is over, have an open dialogue with your teen. Help them evaluate the relationship. Never judge their behavior, but help them see how certain actions can lead to a better outcome the next time.
The old sayings are true: “Time heals all wounds,” “There are other fish in the sea,” and, finally, “Breaking up is hard to do.” While there is no denying that a teen’s first breakup can be unbelievably painful, the emotional stress will lessen over time as the teen becomes engaged with school, friends, sports, activities and other distractions. Allowing your teen to feel the pain and understand it, as a supportive listener and source for help, is essential for building skills to help throughout their life.
Sarah Saxbe, MS, MSW, LISW-S, coordinates community outreach and marketing for Nationwide Children's Hospital's Teen and Pregnant Program, BC4Teens birth control clinic, and the Ohio Better Birth Outcomes collaborative.